Legislative pay complex issue
Published 8:57 am Saturday, April 1, 2023
Do Louisiana legislators deserve a pay increase? That is a tough question because determining how much money Louisiana legislators make every year is a complex issue.
A bill has been introduced for the session that begins April 10 that would increase their pay to $60,000 annually. They currently receive $16,800 in base pay and have an unvouchered $6,000 expense account that is declared as income, so the exact base pay is $22,800.
Lawmakers also receive per diem, which is an allowance per day to cover expenses related to their work during sessions. Those expenses include lodging, meals, and incidentals. In 2021, they received $160 per day, which is tied to the federal rate.
Regular sessions are held in even-numbered years, and they are in session for 60 legislative days during a period of 85 days. They meet in fiscal sessions in odd-numbered years for 45 legislative days during a period of 60 days.
Legislators received $17,976 in per diem payments for their regular 2022 session, two special sessions and a veto session. They received additional per diem amounts for meetings they attended when not in session and mileage reimbursements for regular sessions and interim meetings.
Adding the $22,800 in base pay to the $17,976 in per diem payments, and some might conclude legislators made at least $40,776 in 2022. However, the only lawmakers who might have made something close to that are those who don’t have lodging expenses because they live near Baton Rouge and can drive home every day while in session.
Louisiana legislators will tell you it’s almost a full-time job at part-time pay, and there is some truth to that. Only 10 states have full-time legislatures. Louisiana is one of 26 states that have what are called hybrid legislatures and 14 are part-time legislatures.
Ballotpedia, which calls itself “the digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections,” says legislators in full-time states devote 84 percent of a full-time job to their legislative duties. Hybrid states like Louisiana have legislators who devote 74 percent of a full-time job to their legislative duties.
Part-time states have legislators who devote 57 percent of a full-time job to their legislative duties.
On average, each full-time legislator makes $82,358 annually. Hybrid legislators average $41,110. Part-time legislators are paid about $18,449.
Ballotpedia said the top five states with the highest-paid base legislative salaries are California, $119,702 annually; New York, $110,000; Pennsylvania, $95,432; Michigan, $71,685; and Illinois, $70,645.
Louisiana, like some other states, allows legislators themselves to set their own salaries. However, governors do have veto powers. Louisiana’s base pay of $16,800 was set in 1980, 43 years ago. A number of efforts to increase that base pay have been tried, but that $6,000 expense account counted as income has been the only change. Alabama had the highest base pay among Southern states in 2022 at $53,956 annually, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Other base pay is $47,500 in Oklahoma, $44,357 in Arkansas, $29,697 in Florida, $23,500 in Mississippi, $20,000 in West Virginia, $18,000 for senators and $17,640 for delegates in Virginia, $17,341 in Georgia, $16,800 in Louisiana, $10,400 in South Carolina, and $7,200 in Texas.
The NCSL said states like Louisiana that let legislators set their own pay have “pay problems.” That is because of possible negative perceptions of legislators who vote to increase their own pay.
Ballotpedia said, “When this happens, it is possible for inflation to outpace the rate of pay, meaning legislative salaries may decline over time.”
That is exactly what has happened in Louisiana. Raising base pay in this state with so much poverty to $60,000 a year may be too much to enact at one time, but some increase seems justified.
State Rep. Joe Marino, an independent from Gretna, is sponsoring the pay raise bill. He could serve one more term, but said he isn’t seeking re-election. So, he wouldn’t benefit from an increase.
Marino told the Louisiana Illuminator his pay increase bill would make the job affordable for people who want to serve. He added, “Public service, in my opinion, should not include someone suffering significant financial loss in order to serve their state.”
Jim Beam can be reached at American Press 337-433-3000.